This is a love story……………. It can not be defined as anything else.
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
By Vince Patton
Statue of Douglas Monroe located at the CG Training Station, Cape May, NJ
Official U.S. Coast Guard Photo
As I sit here in my Seattle hotel room continually bursting with pride and joy after having witnessed a group of sterling examples of chief petty officers who have raised the bar on setting the standard of fulfilling the commitment of living the Chief Petty Officer's Creed, I can't help but put my thoughts together in words. On Monday, 27 September, I had the privilege and pleasure to participate in the Munro Gravesite Flagpole dedication ceremony in Cle Elum, WA. As you recall, this event was the pinnacle of a successful effort put together by the Seattle Chapter, CPOA, spearheaded by the proactive efforts of their chapter president, RDCM Mark Brown.
If I may, I'd like to do a quick synopsis of what led up to this joyous day of reaffirming our service's commitment to embracing our history, heritage and tradition. Please forgive me for indulging with a somewhat lengthy email to address my point....
The genesis of this project began on November 11, 1998, when an article appeared in the Seattle Times, of a heartwarming story of Douglas Munro's childhood friend, Mr. Mike Cooley. Mr. Cooley kept a personal vigil over his close friend's grave, personally raising and lowering the National Ensign every day without fail for over thirty years. This human interest story told of how Mr. Cooley took the long three mile walk from his home everyday to the cemetery to conduct "colors" honoring his fallen friend and hero. He never missed a day conducting this solemn ritual so that Munro's deed will not disappear. According to his daughter, Mr. Cooley suffered from pneumonia three years ago, yet he still "stood the watch" twice a day, however his daughter had to drive him back and forth, allowed him to execute his mission, then return home back to bed to convalesce. Mr. Cooley was truly a remarkable man who was totally committed to keeping his friend's legacy alive, even he had to do it alone.
This particular article was forwarded to me by the reporter, Ms Michelle Malkin, after she had received a copy of a speech I had given, talking about my initiatives of bringing the history of Munro to the forefront. After I read the article, I passed it on via the CMC network, with a little help through my good friend Norm Paulhus' "Norm Net" which many believe guarantees email distribution to the universe. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if the great Creator himself is on Norm's bang list.
Within days of forwarding the Seattle Times article, I immediately received an outpouring of emails responses throughout the Coast Guard and beyond, asking if there was something that we could do to help Mr. Cooley. Judging from the article, he was getting up there in years, and his days of standing the watch would soon be over. Mr. Cooley unfortunately died in August of this year after a long illness at the age of 81. He lived long enough to know that this day would come where he would be "formally relieved of his duties," and this project was well underway to his satisfaction. My spiritual guess is he thought it was time to watch the completion of this project, and enjoy the dedication ceremony along next to his close friend Doug Munro.
It was then suggested that we look into finding a way to light the flagpole, so the flag would remain flying. I inquired to MCPO Dave Ojeda, the D13 command master chief to see if he can have someone take a look at the gravesite to see if it was possible. As is with just about anything you need done in the Coast Guard -- you simply "Ask the Chief!" This statement was immediately validated as the D13 chiefs took action immediately. Upon a site visit by several of the D13 chiefs, they found that the flagpole had stood its test of time and was soon worn for wear. Through Mr. Cooley's own efforts to keep the flag flying he had jury-rigged it dozens of times to keep it together. The consensus from the chiefs was the cemetery needed a new flagpole. The other obstacle in this idea was there was no source for power to have a lighted flagpole. To a Chief, obstacles are merely minor inconveniences which provide opportunities to conquer.
Through the update of the status of this initial project, I had passed it on to the CMCs, who of course continued to keep others informed of what was going on. No doubt about it, this project took on a life of its own, where the true meaning of "Team Coast Guard" in addition to the D13 chiefs were more than willing to help. The facilities engineer at ISC Portsmouth offered up the opportunity to get an excess property flagpole that came from Governors Island. However because the cemetery was not government owned/operated, we had to follow the excess property procedures. There laid an obstacle where another government agency was waiting in the wings to take ownership of it. To a Chief, obstacles are merely minor inconveniences which provide opportunities to conquer.
After the field received this update of not so good news, the Yorktown Chapter CPOA offered the suggestion to buy a new flagpole, which came to the amount of approximately $3,000. Again, "Team Coast Guard" went into action, in addition to the donations given by the local CPOA Chapters, many others joined in, including individual donations from chiefs, officers, other enlisted members, civilians, auxiliarists, Coast Guard veterans, retirees and family members. The amount was raised so quickly, I don't think anyone kept track of the pace of how fast the donations poured in. The next obstacle was getting someone to put the flagpole in, this included getting some assistance and permission from the cemetery. Somebody had to make this happen - especially when the nearest Coast Guard installation was over 80 miles away. To a Chief, obstacles are merely minor inconveniences which provide opportunities to conquer. .
In a matter of days after this project's plan began to materialize, dozens of chiefs from the Seattle area and the entire crew of Aids-to-Navigation Team, Kennewick, WA drove hundreds of miles over a course of several days in a pilgrimage of sorts to Munro's gravesite. They did this on their own time and at their own expense, surveying the site and visualizing at what challenges would lay ahead of them. There was no source of power, which had to be done, with some cooperation and assistance from the local power company. Equipment and supplies had to be sought to build the foundation of the flagpole. There were other countless number of "challenges" that would have to be overcome to make this project a reality. To a Chief, obstacles are merely minor inconveniences which provide opportunities to conquer.
As timing is always perfect, another initiative was in the making at the same time. The VFW Post in Cle Elem which by the way bore the name of Douglas A. Munro, had been trying for a number of years to erect a memorial veterans' wall that listed names of fallen servicemen who died in past wars from the State of Washington. A similar wall did exist at one time attached to the side of a building in the state capital of Olympia, but through neglect in upkeep, the wall was taken down and stored in a warehouse. The VFW Post had made numerous attempts to retrieve it and erect it in the local cemetery which a large number of deceased veterans are in their final resting place. RDCM Brown coordinated with the VFW post to work on getting the wall erected - which was to be placed just a few yards from Munro's grave. The problem, the VFW members were elderly and unable to accomplish the task of constructing the wall site. To a Chief, obstacles are merely minor inconveniences which provide opportunities to conquer.
In steps RDCM Brown, who after some discussion with the VFW and the Seattle CPOA Chapter members, agrees to take the wall project on in conjunction with the flagpole task. Spearheading this effort was taken on by the entire crew of ANT Kennewick, headed up by the officer in charge, BMC Tom Carroll. Working in a concerted effort to ensure the wall and the flagpole site be completed together, scores of other chiefs throughout the 13th district got involved, both active and reserve. Additional equipment was needed, supplies, and strong able bodies. All to be done on their own time, with no government expense. The chiefs accomplished this without a skip in their progressive step. Additional funding to pay for the building materials, construction, and the wall continued to come in donations coordinated by RDCM Brown. To a Chief, obstacles are merely minor inconveniences which provide opportunities to conquer.
On Monday, 27 September, the 57th anniversary of the death of Douglas Munro. The lighted flagpole and the veterans' wall was dedicated under the clearest sky that the State of Washington had ever seen. I recall telling someone that the traditional grey skies of western Washington state, gave way to a picture perfect day only because Doug Munro and Mike Cooley wanted to make sure they had a perfect view of the action. After all, they're a lot closer to the decision-making process and outcome of what the weather would be.
Official U.S. Coast Guard Photos
While the event organizers, RADM Blayney and even myself, since my office handled the RSVP list anticipated anywhere between 150 to 250 attendees, we were in for the most pleasant surprise of all. The number swelled to well over 750. Some estimate the number to be around 800 people attended this event. All I know is, there were only 400 programs printed, and they were gone inside five minutes after they were available to be handed out.
My quick scan of the crowd displayed a unique diversity that the small town of Cle Elum, with a population of just under 2,500 may have never experienced before. Attendees came from all over. They came from as far away as St. Petersburg, FL, Cape Cod, MA, San Antonio, TX, Tulsa, OK, Southern California, to just a few hundred yards across the street from the cemetery at the nearby Safeway supermarket. The poor town police department of four officers and a dozen of volunteers probably witnessed their first "traffic congestion" since the introduction of the automobile in the town of Cle Elum.
There were young school children, high school students, retirees and veterans who pulled their uniforms out of the closet after so many years and wore them with pride to this event. There were seaman apprentices to admirals, active, reserve, retired. Even Medal of Honor recipient, Air Force Colonel Joe Jackson, USAF Ret. was there, wearing his medal around his neck with pride which paved way for the snappiest salutes from everyone. They came in walkers, wheelchairs and strollers. There was probably every ethnic group prominently represented. Retired Army Sergeant Bill Sumner, a proud Native American decked out in full heritage attire formed up with the honor guard of chief petty officers who stood by the flags representing every Allied nation that took part in World War II.
Official U.S. Coast Guard Photos
In my 18 months since I assumed the position of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, there's been three occasions where I have become so overwhelmed with such emotion that I actually had tears flowing down my check like a baby, the USO Service Salute in New York City after the award was read for ET2 Richard Nieman who was responsible for rescuing over 150 people during the Grand Forks, ND flood; on Coast Guard Day this year on Capitol Hill during a reception honoring BM2 Mark Coady, one of the many heroes who were involved in the JFK Jr. rescue and recovering operations; and hearing of the SAR case at Station Atlantic City, where the RHI crew felt the value of a woman's life was worth the risk. There's about six or so other cases that brought a lot of goosebumps and a swelling of the eyes. This event rates right up there as a "tissue grabber." My predecessor Rick Trent never told me this part of the job!
There were a countless number of people that were directly and indirectly involved with this event. Although I'm sure I'll miss a few names, these individuals listed below are certainly the most visible key players and are most deserving of a public thanks from me:
MCPO Dave Ojeda - D13 Command
RDCM Mark Brown - VTS Puget Sound
BMCM Kim Brown - MSO Puget Sound
MKCM Jeff Andrie - NESU Seattle
SKCM Ben Runez - ISC Seattle
SKCS Greg Pankau - ISC Seattle
GMC Gene Hunt - ISC Seattle
DCC Henry Conners - ISC Seattle
BMC Tom Carroll - ANT Kennewick
- and the entire crew of ANT Kennewick
Together these members made a dream a reality, showing us all what it means to embrace our history, heritage and tradition with confidence, competence and commitment. When you think of the words to our core values, "Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty" these actions that these individuals have shown are clear evidence that core values are real, not abstract. By their actions, it has given full rejuvenation the importance of learning, living and caring about our Coast Guard legacy.
As you'll note below my signature block, the USCGC NORTHLAND, along with the USCGC MUNRO and many other Coast Guard units took time out on September 27th to first of all reflect on the life of our fallen hero, and actively participated in a celebration of honoring Munro along with other Coast Guard heroes who have gone before us, being the guiding light of leadership for us to follow. There are three USMC units that I am aware of that also took time out to celebrate the heroic efforts of Munro, Henderson Hall Marine Corps installation in Washington, DC and the First and Third Marine Divisions in Okinawa and Japan.
The town of Cle Elem will never be the same after this event. Nor will I. I can assure you that I will continue to push forward events like this throughout the Coast Guard. I know that I have a great group of Chief Petty Officers behind me who will continue to be the "lamplighters of our history."
This experience can be summed up in the words of the movie starring Kevin Costner, entitled, "Field of Dreams." It's true - "IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME!" All we need to do now is get Costner to play the part of a Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer, and we're ready to film the sequel in Cle Elum.
Official U.S. Coast Guard Photo